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Swimming pool approved in Natura 2000 site in Bahrija

The Planning Authority approved a 75 square metre swimming pool in the Bahrija countryside despite clear objections by the Environment and Resources Authority

james
James Debono
23 August 2016, 9:35am
The approved application aims to rehabilitate an existing farmhouse on the site
The approved application aims to rehabilitate an existing farmhouse on the site
Last month the  Planning Authority approved a 75 square metre swimming pool in the Bahrija countryside despite clear objections by the Environment and Resources Authority.

The approved application aims to rehabilitate an existing farmhouse on the site but it also foresees a swimming pool set on the terraced sides of the Wied il-Marca and Wied il-Bahrija, a designated Area of High Landscape value and protected as a buffer zone to an Area of Ecological Importance which forms part of the Natura 2000 network.

Buffer zones like the one where the pool area is being proposed are considered as an important component of the scheduling of areas of ecological importance because activities on these sites may still have an indirect impact on the Level 1/Level 2 scheduled areas and the overall integrity of the protected features and/or habitats.

The ERA had considered the pool and a proposed pathway as “incompatible with the rural surrounding environment” and the PA’s advisory panel on nature protection had also objected to a pool on a site located within the Natura 2000 site.

The farmhouse building, parts of which may date back 300 years, has lain abandoned for some years and sections of it have collapsed. The PA’s internal heritage watchdogs approved the rehabilitation of the farmhouse.

The farmhouse building has lain abandoned for some years and sections of it have collapsed
The farmhouse building has lain abandoned for some years and sections of it have collapsed
The case officer recommended the approval of the pool by stating that it conforms to the rural development policy approved in 2014, which does not ban swimming pools in Areas of High Landscape Value and in buffer zones to Areas of Ecological Importance.

This contrasts with the fate of a proposed underground agricultural reservoir in an adjacent plot of land, which is being deemed incompatible with the area’s designation as a Natura 2000 site. The application, to regularize the pre-1994 agricultural store and bee keeping stores, and a reservoir, is being recommended for refusal by the case officer. The reason for the objection to the reservoir is because the site is located in a Natura 2000 site.

An objection against the farmhouse and swimming pool development was filed by four tenants who insisted that no permits should be issued until their position is regularised. Claiming that they have paid a lease on the land since 1925, the tenants referred to a “verbal agreement” with a member of the Gaffarena family to terminate the lease. But in a letter to the PA they claimed that this agreement was never implemented. The tenants are currently depositing rent to the law courts in view of a court case instituted against Alfaclass Company Limited, a company partly owned by Marco Gaffarena. 

Carmel Attard, who was represented by architect Charles Buhagiar, the Labour MP who chairs the Building Industry Consultative Council, presented the application for the redevelopment of the old farmhouse and pool.  Buhagiar is also the architect of the adjacent application to regularise the store and construct a reservoir, which has been recommended for refusal.

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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